18 July 2013Life

Creating a culture of wellness in your organisation

The 21st century workforce is characterised by an ageing population, stress, mental health issues, and an increase in chronic disease. In fact, at least 80 percent of employees have one chronic condition, while 55 percent have more, according to the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease.

Most of us are aware that among the primary culprits of poor health are a sedentary lifestyle and poor food choices. Yet the best of us have diffi culty following through on making healthy lifestyle changes. Workplaces, where we spend most of our time, are typically not conducive to making the right choices with regards to our health. Even when we have the best intentions, schedules make us choose a quick, unhealthy lunch or we stay at the offi ce late and miss our exercise class.

To address this, an increasing number of the best companies are implementing worksite wellness strategies. High-performing workforces demonstrate healthier behaviour, have fewer health risks,show lower prevalence of chronic diseases and have lower medicalrelated expenses. Additionally, employees are shown to have higher levels of productivity, morale and loyalty to their companies.

Not all worksite wellness programmes are created equal. Those that are proven to deliver the best results are approached as an overall culture shift for the organisation. At the core of these programmes lie policy and environmental changes. A successful wellness culture will reach the hard-to-reach, maintain healthy behaviour and increase the successful outcomes of lifestyle change.

"Support from the top will ensure that wellness remains a priority. The CEO's active leadership will set the tone for the rest of the organisation."

The need to approach wellness from a cultural perspective is an essential aspect of workplace wellness programmes, and is consistent with behaviour change theory. Any workplace that supports and encourages the adoption of healthy behaviours can be considered an opportunity. Opportunity is having access to the environment that makes opting for a healthy lifestyle the easiest choice and, eventually,the norm. In a wellness culture, healthy lifestyles are ‘the way we do things here’.

Essential elements to embedding wellness into the fabric of your organisation include:

Leadership—Support from the top will ensure that wellness remains a priority. The CEO’s active leadership will set the tone for the rest of the organisation. Other leaders, including department heads and supervisors, throughout the organisation should also endorse and participate in the programme and lead by example. Clear leadership will help deploy programmes and engage larger groups of people.

Supportive policies and environment—Supportive policies that make it easier to move more at work and eat healthy foods will be central to creating healthy norms in your organisation. The table below includes some strategies for improving your work environment.

Peer support—In a wellness culture people support each other in achieving their health goals. For better or worse, healthy behaviour spreads from individual to individual. It is desirable to engage co-workers, spouses, dependents and social networks to support healthy lifestyles.

Celebrate success—It is important to recognise staff who make an effort and achieve results from their positive lifestyle changes. Recognition through a programme finishing party, or rewards in the form of gifts and incentives, motivates and reinforces healthy behaviour.

Best practives in workplace wellness have established that one of the most effective ways to create and sustain long-term positive lifestyle behaviour change is through positive environmental factors. A wellness program using this approach will ensure that the workplace makes healthy behavior the easiest choice.

Implementing a worksite wellness programme in your company may seem daunting, but many of the best health insurance companies offer guidance and can work with your wellness committee to help establish your programme and implement your vision.

Please contact Colonial Group International for information regarding its wellness programme and resources that will help to create a culture of wellness in your organisation.

Jacqueline Perreault Teunissen is corporate wellness director at Colonial Medical Insurance. She can be contacted at: jacquelinep@colonial.bm